A chef who has opened a pop-up pub restaurant style carvery in his care home has been shortlisted for a top award.
Mark Hearne has also started a cooking club for residents at the Ty Cwm Gwendraeth nursing home, Llanelli, run by Fieldbay part of the Envivo Group.
Fieldbay is a leading provider of nursing, residential and supported living services in South Wales.
Nursing home manager Sue Lewis-Ball nominated him for a Wales Care Award, and is delighted that Mark has made it through to the shortlist for a coveted gold, silver or bronze.
Supported by lead sponsor Ontex UK, and organised by care industry champions Care Forum Wales, the awards celebrate exceptional work of those in the care sector.
Mark is shortlisted in the Excellence in Catering category, sponsored by Harlech Foodservice.
The winners will be announced at a glittering ceremony which all nominees are invited to attend at Cardiff City Hall on Friday, October 21. The host for the evening will be popular tenor, Wynne Evans, aka Gio Compario from the Go Compare TV advertisements.
The care sector wasn’t on the agenda when Mark started his working life in the steel industry.
When he left school he got a job in a factory turning steel on a lathe. But one day when he went to work he was told the company had folded – he no longer had a job.
He said: “I was devastated. I thought there’s no way I can go home and tell my mam I’d lost my job.
So walking home, I started knocking on the doors of all the hotels in Machynlleth where we lived until one agreed to take me on as a washer upper.
“I was thrilled as it meant I could tell mam she didn’t have to worry as although I’d lost one job, I’d found another.”
Mark loved working in the kitchen and started watching the chefs at work, picking up culinary tips.
He said: “I’d been doing that for a while, when there came a second quirk of fate. One day a hotel chef who was a part-time fireman had to dash out because news came in that two light aircraft had collided over a nearby field.”
The emergency meant the hotel was left with a full restaurant but no chef, so Mark stepped in to hold the fort.
He said: “I cooked 63 meals that day and all the customers were happy. When the hotel owner came in she was so grateful and realised I had the potential to be a chef so she promoted me to the cooking team.”
Mark later proved his mettle by running the hotel before going on to launch a successful restaurant in South Wales, then more recently joining the care sector.
He has drawn on his past experience in hospitality to open the on-site pop up ‘pub restaurant’ carvery days at the home where he oversees kitchens for five residential units in his role as Head Chef.
Sue Lewis-Ball said: Mark’s original ideas have been generated by his keen observations of and engagement with the people we support in the home.
“When you meet him the first thing that strikes you is his incredible passion for catering in care.
Projects and Innovations Lead Trudi Petersen, who supported Mark’s nomination, said, “Mark is always coming up with ideas to make mealtimes memorable, social, and enjoyable. He is keen that colleagues and managers – right up to managing director level – understand the personal eating experience of the people we support with empathy. This has included cooking a full buffet style meal for senior colleagues using only modified diet foods so that they could see how this could be made appealing and could still taste good.
So much of what Mark does is just part of his natural affinity for care. If one of the people we support has a particular liking for a food or there is a foodstuff that links with their cultural heritage, he will go out of his way to include it.”
Mark’s idea for carvery is a huge success. It is run in a resource centre which is on site but separate to the home. It is designed to look exactly like a pub restaurant with attractive décor, nice cutlery and crockery, as well as an alcohol-free bar. The setting makes it amenable to a social event, much like someone would experience if they went out to eat in any pub restaurant. Mark was keen that service users’ families and friends could also join in.
The weekly carvery with vegetarian, adapted and special diet options, has become a much looked forward to event, a special social highlight.
Trudi said, “For people we support to be able to arrange to meet family for dinner, in the same way that they might meet someone for a meal if they were living in their own home is empowering and promotes dignity. Not only does Mark cook for this, but he also takes bookings and does the admin. Feedback has been excellent.”
Mark, 53, who now lives in Llanelli with his partner, nurse Sarah Griffiths, has also launched a successful cooking club where with his guidance residents can try making dishes themselves.
Mario Kreft MBE, Chair of Care Forum Wales, said the aim of the Wales Care Awards was to recognise the unstinting and remarkable dedication of unsung heroes and heroines across Wales.
He said: “The social care sector is full of wonderful people because it’s not just a job, it’s a vocation – these are people who go the extra mile for others.
“During the Covid crisis, this fantastic workforce rose magnificently to the challenge, putting their own lives on the line to do everything they possibly could to safeguard the people for whom they provide care.
“Unfortunately, it has taken a global pandemic for many other people to realise how important and how significant our social care workforce is.
“Their incredible contribution was summed up best in the powerful and emotive words of the song, Heroes of our Heart, written by the acclaimed poet Mererid Hopwood and sung by Sir Bryn Terfel, which was set to the famous tune of Men of Harlech. The message that the diolch should last forever is one that we should never forget.
“If you don’t recognise the people who do the caring you will never provide the standards people need and never recognise the value of people who need care in society.
“All the nominees deserve to be lauded and applauded and it’s a real pleasure to honour the contribution of all the finalists.
“I congratulate all the individuals who have shown outstanding dedication and professionalism. Every one of them should be proud of their achievement.
“They are Wales’s finest.”